The Old Fart's festival guide: Survival is all about quality, not quantity

Halfway through and our intrepid veteran Chris Bratt is bruised but still standing, and coming to terms with limiting himself to just six shows a day

Chris Bratt
Tuesday 15 August 2017 17:59 BST
With more than 3,800 shows in 500 venues, it's impossible to see everything, so the best advice is 'don't trt'
With more than 3,800 shows in 500 venues, it's impossible to see everything, so the best advice is 'don't trt' (Getty)

Edinburgh. Now we've survived thus far, mid way through the festival, there is, as we have seen, a plethora of booklets and pamphlets all sharing their reviews and star ratings. While useful, they only serve to underline how many good four- or five-star rated shows you are NOT going to see. But this year, we are unlikely to beat our PB of 153 shows. So far, we have only managed 40 shows. To my mind, we are being more selective; it has nothing to do with moving more slowly about the place.

Remember Cardinal Rule No 3: always leave a generous amount of time between shows in different venues. Running at our age is not good at the best of times, let alone on the crowded pavements, steps and cobbles of Edinburgh. Many broken and cracked paving stones are showing the effects of heavy footfall and have caused many to fall of foot. My wife measured her length on one such hazard recently, and we spent valuable time seeking tea-tree cream, arnica and frozen peas for the subsequent grazes and dramatic bruises.

Oldies should probably attempt no more than six shows a day. That's at least six hours of sitting in a show and allowing a minimum of 45 minutes between venues, and for queuing, add another four and half hours. Then add eating time – even if only street food (to be considered in a later article) –and, of course drinking, travelling to and from your accommodation and seeking out pharmacies... you do the maths. And you'll probably be walking every where. It might be raining. Just understand that you cannot see everything you'd like to and don't beat yourself up. There are over 3,800 shows in 500 venues – it's logistically impossible to get to them all. Adopt the "whatever" philosophy.

I am not intending to review fully the shows we have seen – others do that more eloquently and I would only add to the current confusion of what to see. And it should be reiterated that the Fringe is not all about comedy, although it predominates. There's theatre, music, dance and circus. We were offered two free tickets for "Cirkopolis" a stunning display of acrobatics, although not a genre we would normally choose. Be prepared to take a chance, especially shows on the free fringe, which is making something of a resurgence and returning to the very early roots of the Fringe.

Sadly (perhaps) for we oldies, many shows treat dementia and age related problems. A South African company, Baxter Theatre, has brought six plays to his year's Fringe and a couple of them illustrate certain human conditions that we oldies might be getting close to, or even experiencing. At the Assembly Studios, "Inconvenience of Wings" traces the effects of a manic-depressive wife on her husband and family, while "Tobacco" is a warm evocation of a down-trodden husband who dreams of a different life but yet cannot leave the present one. (Does that ring true?) For me it was as much the creative use of simple props – a half cylindrical lectern and a box – as the theme of the play that endeared me to the central narrator. How impressive simple sets and imagination can be. Pure theatre.

"Confabulation" (Pleasance Courtyard) explores the mysteries of the memory and how, as we age, we are increasingly unable to trust a single thing we remember about our past, and events get more colourful as we imagine extra things that have happened. Now that does sound familiar.

At Summerhall, "The Gardener" is a tour de force in the basement of the building. Fifteen of us were invited by a nurse-like figure to sit around a low table to listen to a talk, introducing the formation of a gardening club. It was then that we realised that we were actually fellow inmates of this, God's Waiting Room. The nurse serves us tea and biscuits and you begin to see your future. Fascinating.

Meanwhile, at the Book Festival, between 12.00 and 1.00 you can join the Death Lunch, where we are enjoined to come and "openly discuss death". Whether we are also welcome to bring our tuna/mayo baguettes and a glass of white wine is not mentioned. We have passed on this one. As I write this in the Book Festival garden – a comfortable flyer-free place to retreat to and regroup – a lecture "Waiting for the Last Bus" takes place in the tent behind me. It is apparently a personal exploration of ''how we write the story of life in death''. Hmmm. It seems to be all around us.

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